Back in 2009, I had an accident that rendered me physically disabled while making me a stronger person and a better project manager.
I was playing indoor soccer and a player’s knee connected with my thigh – my foot didn’t move from the floor. Instead, my knee separated – laterally dislocating – fracturing the tibial plateau, rupturing my PCL and ACL, and tearing my MCL and my meniscus. In addition, the peroneal nerve was stretched beyond its capabilities rendering my ankle pretty much useless. After three surgeries and lots of rehab, I was left with what is called ‘foot drop’ or a palsy. I cannot lift my toes toward my nose. My foot at rest looks like I am trying to point my foot like a ballerina. I wear an AFO brace to keep my toes at a 90 degree angle to my leg so I don’t trip while I walk.
I spent 36 weeks on crutches in 2009 and in 2010 I began the process of re-learning how to walk. Initially, I was unable to walk on dry land because my brain didn’t believe I could support my own weight, so I began my rehabilitation in a pool.
I was given a list of activities I could not engage in again without risking my knee: no running, tennis, soccer, contact sports, twisting, etc.
I replaced my former activities with cross-fit, weight-training, walking and punching a bag and have found those to be great alternatives for working up a sweat and staying in shape. I don’t get the same high that I did from running or experience the thrill I got from goaltending, but it is good enough.
As I write this, I am recuperating from yet another surgery on 9/5/13. I wasn’t doing anything on the forbidden list but my shoe came down awkwardly and I rolled my ankle, snapping off my patellar tendon from the tibia. I was back on crutches, completed a 2 week Medical Leave of Absence (MLOA), and I am now doing quite well walking the halls of JF3.
It has been an interesting journey. The doctors initially told me that I might not walk again after the first injury – but I did. It wasn’t easy – it took a lot of focus, sweat, some tears along with some expert assistance from trainers, physical therapists, a talented massage therapist and my surgeons.
Part of Physical Therapy (with a physical terrorist) is setting goals. You start with modest targets before moving on to big audacious goals. You review progress every week and check off each goal as they are achieved. My first task was to bend the knee 110 degrees. Then I waited for the swelling to go down enough for me to wear sneakers. Next I had to stand on one leg. That is when the goals got bigger. Try going on vacation with the family without crutches. Walk up and down the stairs holding a laundry basket without stopping or holding the handrail. Walk two legs of Portland to Coast. Learn how to deadlift. Climb to the top of Floreana Island’s volcano and stare into the Caldera. Learn how to use a punching bag properly at the gym.
All of this planning “enabled” me mentally and physically. Setting goals is something I’ve done for years at Intel, but applying this skill to my personal life in such a methodical fashion was a new experience. I have learned that overcoming fear is one of the biggest obstacles to change and growth. Will my leg hold me? Will deep tissue massage therapy help more than it hurts? Can I handle acupuncture needles?
Now I am more prepared than ever for the challenges that lie ahead as I come back from this latest injury. I am quickly crossing goals off my list as I reach them. I learned to make my targets smaller so I can progress through them faster. Though they are small, they are still meaningful and, to be honest, a little bit terrifying.
People keep commenting on how strong I am and how fast I am recovering. The person who notices the most is the security guard at JF3. I reflected on those comments and realized that they think I am stronger and tougher than they would be under the same circumstances because they don’t see the time I take resting and getting stronger and setting and planning how to achieve my next goals. I’ve made sure part of my recovery includes plenty of time in contemplation and planning. I keep doing things that scare me (but are safe) on my way to recovery.
My disability enables me. I have generalized the lessons I have learned from my personal trials to my professional life. I take more calculated risks. I realize that if I am not afraid, I am not learning, I am not stretching and I am not growing. I recently pitched a big program to a group of decision-makers at the company. It was large, difficult and had never been done before successfully. I am excited to say they approved the program and with a lot of planning and work, it’s been very successful. I ask for help to achieve my goals. I use experts to help guide me in my career. I regularly meet with two different mentors to go over my plans and get ideas on how to strengthen my skills. They have connected me with other people who have provided me with opportunities to practice and hone my skills. I actively plan and work towards my goals. I reassess when I get new information. I have 1-3 hours per week dedicated to planning blocked on my calendar. I protect this time and never skip my meetings with myself. (Sometimes these meetings happen very early in the morning to ensure they happen!) My disability has enabled me to think differently about my health, my career and my life.